Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 provides the police with powers to take someone to, or keep someone in, a ‘place of safety’, where there is ‘reasonable cause’ to believe that the person has ‘a mental disorder’, and is in need of immediate ‘care or control’, because they are being ill-treated or neglected or are unable to look after themselves. In 2017, the law was updated to ensure that the police consult medical professionals before any such detention. In West Yorkshire, this has been taken a step further, making it policy to consult a specialist mental health professional as part of this decision-making, and embedding mental health nurses within the five locality-based district police stations.
The role of the nurses is to:
- Provide immediate advice, information and support to police officers in contact with people with mental health needs (in person and through emergency service calls), supporting assessment of risk and vulnerability and decisions regarding intervention ‘pathways’, and aiding the de-escalation of mental health situations, including where there is a perceived risk of suicide or self harm.
- Provide consultation for officers considering s.136 detention, enabling appropriate diversion to less restrictive options, and access to timely mental health assessments.
- Enable timely access to information on known service users, as held by health and social care, including providing an overview of existing care and crisis plans.
This service has received significant national interest, as all police force areas look to develop effective and efficient approaches to these concerns. We therefore undertook an initial process evaluation of this innovative approach.
- Embedding mental health nurses in district police stations in West Yorkshire is uniformly perceived to have resulted in better informed, and therefore more effective responses to individuals in mental distress who are subject to 999 calls.
- By reviewing police logs and discussion with officers, mental health nurses were able to ensure a response from the most appropriate professional, including mental health or social work support, and therefore reduce inappropriate police intervention.
- Subsequent benefits to broader policing and health services provision include more efficient use of police resources, reduced burden on health services (particularly A&E), and the impact of stronger awareness and understanding of mental health on other police interactions with the public.
- It was widely perceived that the number of individuals in mental distress being arrested or detained on a s.136 had reduced, though we have been unable to access data to confirm this.
Research conducted by Dr Kim Turner (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Nicola Moran (University of York), Dr Alessandro Moretti (University of Copenhagen), Prof Nathan Hughes (University of Sheffield).
For further information, contact Prof Nathan Hughes, email@example.com